South Carolina’s transportation funding board voted to pull out of an agreement to extend Interstate 526 — effectively killing the project’s chances outside court.
The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank board (STIB) voted 4-3 Tuesday to terminate its role, with members saying they do not believe Charleston County has a plan to fund its share of the project’s more than $750 million price tag.
The Infrastructure Bank pledged $420 million for the project in 2007, with Charleston County agreeing to cover the remaining costs. However, the project’s total cost has ballooned since then. Chairman John White said the county has not put forward a binding proposal for how it would come up with more than $300 million to fund its share.
“What’s been presented so far, we have been told by our lawyers, the Bank can’t take action on that,” White said. “And so the funding is inadequate.”
Charleston County officials have presented a myriad of ideas for local funding — ranging from a sales tax increase to potentially making the new stretch of I-526 a toll road. However, the council has not been able to approve a formal plan.
“We’ll have a bake sale in the city of Charleston, if we need to,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a final desperate appeal. “We’re committed to making this project happen. And we’ll make sure that we get it completed.”
But the meeting was frequently tense as Chairman White expressed frustration with vague pledges from Lowcountry lawmakers. “You’ve talked about it passionately, but… I live in a world where actions speak louder than words,” he said.
White and Charleston County Council Chairman Vic Rawl accused each of not being forthright throughout the years-long dispute. Charleston County sued the Bank last year after it first halted its involvement.
The vote was a setback for Gov. Henry McMaster, whose own appointees voted to terminate the project despite his pledge of support for I-526 last month.
Board member Chip Limehouse, a former Charleston legislator, unsuccessfully urged the bank to spend the money set aside so far. “The $150 million (Charleston County has) offered plus the $420 million that we have, that would go a long way towards building this project.”
The freeway’s future could still be up in the air as courts rule on the county’s lawsuit. The board reconsidered a similar 2016 vote after McMaster changed the chairman last year.